Grampa’s blindness did not in any way affect his intelligence nor his thirst for news, so each member of the family was assigned a day on which they had to come over and read the newspaper to him. That lasted until my dad, a tinkerer, built (from scratch of course) a crystal receiver for the AM broadcast band. With that and some help from my dad, grampa could get his news firsthand from KDKA and other stations as they came on line, and my dad became the hero of those who no longer had to fulfill their “assignments.”
As a teen, and perhaps even pre-teen, I had been aware of shortwave radio, and at one point was gifted with a Hallicrafters S-38, which became my window on the world. The BBC, Radio Moscow and other strong stations filled my headphones. And I would sometimes listen to some of the ham bands. I wondered what all of that dit-dah stuff was about. When the FCC announced the Novice license, I knew that was my kickoff opportunity. I joined a local radio club where I learn the Morse Code and enough technical stuff to pass, on July 24, 1951, not only the 5 wpm Novice code test, but the Technician Class as well. WWII surplus was available in great abundance at that time, and I acquired an ARC-5 transmitter for a few bucks, strung a folded dipole surreptitiously along the rear property line of four of my neighbors (our properties in NYC’s Queens Borough were only 40 feet wide), went onto 80 meters CW and started making new friends.
I soon knew that I wanted to escape the limited Novice band, so I had to get my code speed up to 13 WPM. I was in high school at the time, attending what would today be called a “magnet” school. This entailed riding a bus for half an hour (for 7 cents), then transferring to the subway (this required a 2-cent transfer), and riding for another hour to my school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The return trip was free, using a School Pass for boarding. Seven cents for three hours of ride. Unconsciously, to kill the time down in that tunnel, I began to read the advertising signs in the subway car, and translating them in my mind into code. As nothing that one can do (that’s legal) on the NY subways attracted any attention, I began giving voice to the code. Through this method alone, I easily increased my speed to the required 13 WPM, and got my General Class ticket, which allowed me to escape the 5 WPM confines of the Novice band.
I didn’t stop at 13 WPM, but kept advancing. I never listened to the code practice sessions on ARRL’s W1AW, but I did tune in (monthly I believe) to their tests, submission of successful copy of which earned proficiency awards. Before I knew it, I was at their highest testing speed, 35 WPM, and hung the Certificate proudly on my wall with all the QSL cards. I hadn’t realized that there was anything special about that until one of my friends showed me a little article in QST for October 1951, crediting me with having covered their speed spectrum in record time. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it really doesn’t matter. The article also attributed my progress to using the W1AW practice sessions.
Sorry guys, but it was the subway’s practice sessions, my mouth and the tolerance of New Yorkers.
As my ticket shows, I advanced from Novice/Technician to General to Advanced to Amateur Extra, in each case doing so within a day or so of becoming eligible. I know it makes me a nerd to say this, but I just plain liked taking those tests. For each test, I had to take that bus/subway ride to the FCC offices on the lower West Side, near where the World Trade Center was built. The office was manned by two very kind gentlemen named Mr. Howell and Mr. Finkelstein. They were friendly and full of encouragement. If any of their descendants are reading this, please know that you are from good stock. Thanks guys.